Posted on May 22, 2015
“Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things pass away; God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Those who have God find they lack nothing; God alone suffices.” Teresa of Avila (1515-82)
Posted on May 19, 2015
The next few chapters in the book relate to deepening the understanding of the postures towards God that Skye introduces in the 1st.
The first posture is;
Life under God
Life under God is a posture that comes close to fatalism, the idea that what will be, will be, apart from that our adherence to God’s will induces his blessing, and conversely, our lack of blessedness is because of our displeasing God.
Skye explains how this view emerges from people attempting to explain the causes for evil or lack of fortune. It can be presented as some form of *primitive” view of God, such as ancient cultures explaining why crops fail, but Skye explains how in a modern society we still can hold the understanding that our business is failling, our children are sick, our country is collapsing all because of our lack of adherence to God’s rules.
Just over a week ago a close friend of ours died far too suddenly. We cried out in prayer, and were sure God joined us in our desire for his life to be prolonged, but yet, he died.
Honestly victorious phrases like “Death where is your sting, grave where is your victory”1 seem like callous belittling of the very real pain experienced in the loss of life. Is my reaction to those phrases a worrying litmus test for the extent of my ‘eternal perspective’? I’ve wondered.
Phrases more like ‘struck with grief’ and ‘stung by unexpected loss’, seem like more honest reflections on the experience of losing a friend so soon and unexpectedly.
I do believe, I should affirm, that our dear friend has now, finally, known the deep and loving embrace of the One his heart always longed for. But for those of us left behind there is an acute sense that the unique way in which our friend mediated the presence of God to us is lost for now. We are resigned to bitter-sweet memories of his joy, his rootedness, his loving embrace.
I’m sure in the midst of this, there is a strain that has plagued all of humanity over time, the making of good things into ultimate things. People, who mediate God’s presence to us in their own unique way, in their God-image, are not in themselves God of course. But God was revealed to us in human form, in Jesus, not in some mysterious spiritual cloud. And so, the Christian faith does release us to know the divine in the flesh, of primarily Christ himself, but also through those who are now included in His new humanity, other believers like our friend.
So, I feel the sting, and I’m increasingly inclined to think that is not a bad thing, or as I had feared, a litmus test for my ‘heavenly mindededness’. My wife, who embodies far more emotional fluency than I, has felt the Lord assure her that the pain we feel is the ‘not-rightness’ of death. We know we were never made to feel such pain, experience such loss, that in fact to be together, to be known and to know, in the presence of God is what we are made for.
In fact, death has lost its sting but only because of the resurrection, only because we can in some way recognise that we are not the only ones to recognise the abhorrence of death and pain. God has led the way in calling these things enemies of his intended life and flourishing for us. He has moved towards us in Jesus, with his ‘love as strong as death’ 2, naming death as, in fact, the problem.
Strange that He shouldn’t have said, ‘life stronger than death’, but ‘love’. Death is an absence of love, an absence of the life-affirming, worth-giving substance which holds this fragile universe of ours together. And the loss of love is the sting we feel today. Our friend’s loss helps us experience the pang of a creation not yet consummated by its creator, our unhappy life within this ‘middle time’, the ‘space in between’, the ‘now and the not yet’, we are longing for the return of the King.
I don’t want to present this time as somehow a place where we just hold on to some future-hope of God coming one day, with our role as just to hold on and hope. Eternal life, that is life in the fullness of God, does begin now, our connection to the life, community and overflow of love which is the trinity does begin now. But there is a day to come, one which we are pulling into the present in all our kingdom abiding, activity and longing, which is still not fully here, and on days like today it stings.
The ‘Why?’ question regarding pain, suffering and loss does not seem to be one God is offering an answer for in this time. Maybe because it would release us to rely blithely on a principle rather than a person, God Himself. The most consoling thing though, is that God’s story is one that doesn’t belittle death. He doesn’t try to belittle its magnitude and name it as so many of our culturally numb phrases; ‘slipped away’, or ‘moved on’. No, God calls it his primary enemy, the most significant foe of humanity, and at the end of our canon of scripture, our heart aches, not finding vocalisation in the normal sense but groans along with God Himself crying out, “Come, Lord Jesus”.3
- 1 Corinthians 15:55 – “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” ↩
- Song of Songs 8:6 – Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death.. ↩
- Revelation 22:17 – The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” ↩
Today the church celebrate the ascension of Christ, I was sent this great sonnet by Malcolm Guite and his great explanation for the significance of the ascension which seems deeply under appreciated within the evaneglical community;
Posted on May 13, 2015
I’m re-reading Skye Jethani’s book “With” (US | UK | Anywhere else) over the next few weeks, and I like it so much I thought I’d blog through some thoughts as I do. Not quite as in depth as a review, but more a place to repeat and carry forward some ideas that it peaks for me.
In Chapter 1, Skye contends that the disillusionment that is often experienced by those seeking to follow Jesus is not due to a lack of sincerity or not trying hard enough, but that our posture towards God foundationally misled.
“All our life is a festival. Since we are persuaded that God is present everywhere on all sides, we praise God as we till the ground, we sing hymns as we sail the sea, we feel God’s inspiration… Read More
LIAM: It’s clear your reflections which get expressed in your training role also found a voice in the songs, what were the cross overs and what makes song writing different to teaching/preaching/training?
STEVE:“There is indeed a lot of crossover, but there certainly are huge differences between the mediums. Songwriting (particularly when writing songs that are intended to be sung in community for the purpose of spiritual and political formation) just taps into a different part of the mind. There is much more freedom in songwriting than in teaching because I find it to be less academic… there is just less script. I still find myself teaching a lot more than song-writing these day. Fact is, however, I probably teach, preach and train more as a songwriter than I song-write as a teacher, preacher or trainer. I would call music my core instigator from which everything else flows. I mean when I’m cranking 15-20 hours worth of lectures there is just a natural rhythm and stomp that forms. I can’t help it. So I end up treating my teaching role more as a song… Which I think helps content land in interesting ways.